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The Best of Digital 2014

Summer 2014

The Best Fiction Toys Turned Into Tech Tools

by: Tyler Yarbough
The Best Fictional Toys Turned Into Tech Tools

From wearable technology to freakishly fast robots, these 10 techie toys first appeared in spy novels and science fiction. Today, they’re real. How can these glorious gadgets help humans heal, drive, and fly? Read on.

The Jetpack from Thunderball

While James Bond 1965 Thunderball doesn’t rise to the forefront of our minds when we think of the debonair 007, it did contribute another element of Thunderball’s story line: 007’s daring escape from battle to the safety of his Aston Martin via Jetpack!

Most recently, Swiss pilot and aviation lover Yves Rossy designed his own Jet Pack, which he used to fly over the Alps on four separate occasions. He also demo-ed the device in Bond’s very own back yard, less than 100 miles from MI6 headquarters, when he flew over the English Channel in 2008. He made the 22-mile journey from France to England in only 13 minutes.

Star Trek's Dermal Bonding Device'

For those of us who aren’t Trekkies or baccalaureates, a “dermal bonding device” is a laser that the ‘60s crew used to repair cuts on the skin and instantly heal fellow members of the Starship. But that’s only science fiction, right? Not anymore.

Tel Aviv University has created a Laser Stitching device that they hope will completely eliminate the need for traditional stitches. The laser “welds” the skin together and creates a much tighter, more sanitary seal than traditional stitching. The technology debuted in 2009.

Dick Tracy's Two-Way Watch Radio'

We’ve been dreaming of a watch phone ever since it appeared in the Dick Tracy comic strip in 1946. The watch was upgraded 1964 to include TV reception, and was also featured in James Bond’s Octopussy in 1983. Samsung also must have been long time fans, because they debuted the Tracy-inspired Samsung Galaxy Gear in 2013.

This wearable syncs with your phone (calls and text messaging), social media accounts, Wi-Fi, and nearly everything else imaginable. The impact of the smart watch hasn’t yet been felt, as the market seems to be more in the mood for a standalone model—one that allows a user to send and receive calls and texts without having to carry their mobile.

James Bond's Camera Ring from A View to Kill

Is that button watching you? James’ vast arsenal of small, concealable cameras has long been a fascination for many fans of the 007 series, which have led to lots of reproductions since this most famous always-on eye from 1985.

One of our favorites is the Yanko CAMER-ing, which allows you to shoot HD photos from a wedding band sized camera. After capture, the ring synchronizes with a tablet-like device, allowing you to browse through the photos after they have been captured. Small and smart—and something to remember the next time you’re in a contentious work meeting.

Robotic Limbs a la Robocop

If you remember, 1987’s RoboCop featured scene after scene of mangled former officers, wandering the streets fighting crime. Not possible, right?

Today, you might see a wounded veteran walking down the sidewalk with a super-advanced robotic prosthetic. Scientists have developed limbs so advanced that they function by reading the movements of the remaining muscle fibers in your limbs. British manufacturer RSL Steeper has created an arm so sophisticated that it allows amputees to perform even the most dexterous tasks: tying shoes, dealing playing cards, even cracking eggs.

Digital Film-Capturing Binoculars from Goldeneye

Pierce Brosnan became the envy of bird watchers in 1995 with his futuristic binoculars in the Bond classic Goldeneye. Not only did he keep a high-definition eye on Russian terrorists from an absurd distance, he used the same binoculars to capture still photos and send them wirelessly to MI6 headquarters for analysis.

Fast-forward 20 years, and meet the Sony DEV-50V binoculars. Not only do they have up to 25x magnifying zoom, but they also shoot both HD photos and video, are waterproof, dust resistant, and have automatic zoom and image stabilization. Direct link to MI6 not included.

The Smartphone and The Driverless Car from Tomorrow Never Dies

Another futuristic Bond gadget debuted in 1999:  a smart phone that included fingerprint scanning, James’ very own female personal assistant, high voltage taser—not to mention a remote control for James’ 7-series BMW.

As outlandish as that seems, chances are many of you have a very similar smart phone in your pocket right now. If you have an iPhone 5s, you have fingerprint scanning, a fairly reliable personal assistant, and even the option to upgrade to stun gun. (That’s right, the Yellow Jacket Stun Gun iPhone case allows you to vanquish your enemies at close range, delivering 650,000 volts of raw power.) A remote control car is reality, too. Google Chauffer, by Google, is a new, autonomous driving software that allows a car to be driven by a computer. Since its debut in 2011, Google has been road testing its vehicles, accumulating over 300,000 miles in California, Nevada, Michigan and Florida.

The Artificial Intelligence in AI

It’s a familiar scene in Hollywood science fiction; humans create robots to make their daily lives easier, only to realize they’ve created something they can’t control. AI (Artificial Intelligence) was arguably the most convincing, and chilling portrayal of this global epidemic of user error.

But now it’s more than a plot line. Rumor has it that secret project run by Google, called Google X, has a warehouse facility in an undisclosed location where robots run the show, including many that are designed to perform human tasks. Google has been buying up robotics companies left and right (eight in the last couple of years) including Boston Dynamics, inventors of the world’s fastest robot, which can run faster than Usain Bolt.

Robotic Exoskeleton from Avatar

In James Cameron’s Oscar-winning parable, the villainous Colonel Quartich, as well as an entire human army, wear robotic exoskeletons that allow them to safely navigate the treacherous terrain of the planet Pandora.

Such high-tech, futuristic gear seems right at home in a Sci-fi action film, but today, similar suits are being used in places like Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. military. Massachusetts based company Raytheon has developed a suit called the Sarcos XOS2, which first debuted in 2010. It allows soldiers to lift several hundred pounds with ease, break through layers of wood and plaster, and carry 150-pound backpack without feeling any additional strain. The soldiers of the future could be something out of a James Cameron film, as these suits are expected to be operational and untethered from power supplies in less than a decade.